MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

Nationals still searching for answers during skid

Nationals still searching for answers during skid

MILWAUKEE -- You look at a club with the proven ability of the Washington Nationals and you believe that their losing streak cannot possibly grow any longer.

And then it does grow longer, as it did Saturday at Miller Park in a 6-5 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers. As recently as June 17, the Nationals were 43-25, six games up in the NL East. Since then, the Nats have lost seven in a row.

They are still in first place. The sky is not falling. There is no need for doom and gloom.

When a good team hits a bad patch, baseball can become a very perplexing activity. But the Nationals haven't fallen off the face of the Earth.

"It's not like we're playing bad baseball," said outfielder Jayson Werth. "We're just not playing well enough to win, for whatever reason."

"They're a good team," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "The last week doesn't change that. They're a good team. You're looking at who you're facing. Losing [seven] in a row but then you're facing Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez and [Stephen] Strasburg. That's what you're thinking about."

Strasburg was the scheduled pitcher for the series finale on Sunday, but he will not make the start. Nationals manager Dusty Baker said after Saturday's game that Strasburg was day to day with an upper back strain, the injury that had caused him to be scratched from a start against the Dodgers. Tanner Roark, pitching on regular rest, will make the Sunday start for the Nats.

For much of the seven-game streak, the Nats have been missing the big hit at the crucial moment. That element hasn't been present in the two losses to the Brewers either. But in the two Milwaukee losses, sub-standard starting pitching has been the primary culprit.

On Saturday Gonzalez surrendered a three-run home run to Chris Carter in the first inning, and eventually allowed six earned runs over three innings. The Nationals chipped away at a 6-1 deficit to make this a game, but did not end the losing streak.

"We battled, but it's time for us to win some [games] now," Baker said. "We played good ball today. We played excellent ball. We just came up short."

The manager said that the core problem for Gonzalez was an inability to get the third out. The Brewers scored four of their runs with two outs.

"I'll be honest with you it's one of those things I don't have an answer to," Gonzalez said of the two-out hits. "I'm going to keep pitching until the ball is out of my hands. I'm going to keep fighting. I still feel that I can pitch in this game and get outs."

After an impressive start to the season, Gonzalez has struggled in June. Responding to a question about his health, he described himself as "physically 100 percent."

Before this series started, Baker justifiably praised the work of his starting rotation. The Washington starters were ranked third in the Majors coming into this series in ERA.

"I like what I've seen from my rotation all year long," Baker said. "I think we have one of the best rotations around, deep rotation. I'm very proud of our rotation. I'm very proud of our team. We've just got to get back on track now."

A bad patch in June does not spell disaster, particularly for a club that built up a lead in its division. But that doesn't make this streak any easier for the Nats to take. Nor does the notion that even very good teams go through slumps.

"That doesn't make it easier at all," Baker said. "Nobody hates to lose more than me. Nobody is more competitive than I am. It's not easy. It's not designed to be easy. When you hit a bump in the road, you're going through some unfortunate period of time, the main thing is you can't feel sorry for yourself. They're not feeling sorry for you.

"You've got to come out and tighten your belt and say, 'Hey, boys, today's No. 1, the only day we can do something about. We can't do anything about those days that already happened in the past.' All you can do is try to control today."

Baker is a proven Major League manager and everything he says in this area is based on experience. This wisdom should put the Nationals back on track, as long as it is accompanied by this team's typical high-quality starting pitching.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.